Of twists and turns

From the authors of the Pendergast series, Gideon’s Corpse by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child is the second book with the character Gideon Crew.

This time around, Eli Glinn of Effective Engineering Solutions, sends a disgruntled and reluctant Crew to try and negotiate with a nuclear scientist gone insane. Reed Chalker was Gideon’s colleague at Los Alamos, and in his insanity, he’s captured hostages.

Gideon’s unconventional attempt to end the hostage crisis results in Chalker’s death — and the discovery that Chalker wasn’t actually insane. He was irradiated. By what appears to be bomb grade U-235.

From thereon begins a massive hunt to discover the source of the uranium and the potential attack on the United States. For, it seems pretty evident to investigators that terrorists had finally found the resources and brainpower to build themselves a bomb.

Chalker, a recent convert, apparently botched preparations, causing the uranium to go critical. And when that happened, the remaining terrorists fled with the bomb, leaving Chalker to die. Instead, he went insane.

Gideon, for all his displeasure at being drawn into another mission at the fag end of his life — after all, he was diagnosed with a terminal illness that leaves him with less than a year to live — finds himself in the heat of a ponderous investigation. He’s also partnered with FBI agent Stone Fordyce, a man he disliked at first, who’s always showing off the FBI badge.

The novel begins well. It’s fast paced and action packed, even if the Islamic-terrorists-have-nukes plot device is a little clichéd. Unfortunately, towards the middle, it peters out. Gideon’s characterisation has its moments; for example, when he’s shown to have a fear of flying. He has a backstory, of a lost, wandering mother and a father who were framed.

He was also an art thief during his teenage years. And it’s still hard to feel any sympathy for this character, perhaps because it is this very backstory that casts him into a mould. Or perhaps because he has too many elements in his life that demand sympathy. He’s terminally ill too, after all.

Then there’s Alida. The woman who hates Gideon with a passion and then admires him so much so as to talk about a relationship and a future. All in an incredibly short time that’s bizarre in its speed. She’s also the daughter of the acclaimed novelist Simon Blaine.

In the middle of it all, Gideon is framed and now he looks like a terrorist himself.

The denouement, when it comes, is certainly a plot twist — and it’s unbelievable. The entire dragnet of searches for a nuclear bomb, the involvement of NEST and FBI, and the president of the United States, the frantic hunt for Gideon Crew, who is now a suspect.

The average reader will need a lot of patience by the time that happens. Because the book demands more than just your attention to a story. It is clear that you’re reading fiction and anything can happen without any precedents whatsoever. Villains are exceptionally villanous and their insistence that a certain country will overtake them in just about everything unless they pull off this charade is even more hard to swallow.

Considering the incredibly intense investigation that took place to locate a nuclear bomb, considering how many people were involved in its search, and considering the agencies themselves that threw themselves into the fray, it’s peculiar that no one guesses the actual intentions of the conspirators.

Also, given the circumstances, Gideon’s framing comes across as slightly lame, and unrealistic. Wouldn’t someone suspect that the emails on Gideon’s computers were fake? Apparently, nobody did. Fordyce spends a lot of time wondering if they were planted.

Gideon’s Corpse borders on the fantastic. The characters show promise, but none of them are fleshed out enough to give them each a proper identity. Besides, there’s repetition in both prose and dialogue. The story requires massive suspension of disbelief.
And apparently, Gideon is going to steal an illuminated manuscript in the next novel.

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